Tuesday, March 15, 2005

mmmmmmmm clams

cooked in onions, garlic, and celery. good broth.

my favorites Posted by Hello

i first dug up a clam to take and cook and eat in 1971 in capitola, ca. i walked often between capitola and new brighton beach at low tide, the only time it was passable because high tide lapped at the bottom of 75 foot sandstone bluffs, to admire tide pools and their plants and animals. one day it occurred to me that there must be clams here. so i clawed into the gravel a bit with my fingers and sure enough got a clam. wow! took it home. cooked it. ate it. i liked seafood and thought it was wonderful that i could walk ten minutes and collect a few clams. so i went back some days later at low tide to claim my easy clams. digging in wet salty gravel with one's hands quickly wears away several layers of skin and grinds fingernails right on down. i found a three prong garden weeder that worked just right for the gravel, so i would dig maybe six clams several times a month according to tidal availability.

when i moved to san francisco i could barely see the ocean from my back room and walked to the shore quite often but never thought of clamming. then i moved to humboldt county and a friend from high school who lived there took me clamming to a place north of arcata called, appropriately enough, clam beach.

i had only, though i knew of the wide range of types, actually dug up and found hard shell clams among rocks. clam beach at low tide was about 100 yards from beach to water and a half mile wide at least of flat sand--no gravel or rocks like i was used to. clams there are razor clams with thin, delicate shells. they hang out just below the surface of the sand. they can feel the tread of human steps and kind of swim down thru the wet sand at one's approach, after squirting up a bit of water. the strategy is to walk along watching for a squirt, quickly dig a garden spade in beside it, and pull back on the handle so as to compress the sand and trap the clam; then heave out the shovelful and look for a clam. after some practice we got good enough at it to harvest a bucketful between two or three of us in an hour or so. and it was great to be out there, often in fog. this is humboldt county.

we had a clam feast maybe once a month. and i found new friends to clam with too. on the last clam expedition of 1973 we saw a few people using a new clamming device; a three foot long six inch diameter tube, open on the bottom and capped with a half inch hole in the cap, and handles. here's the drill. see a squirt. shove the tube down over it leaving the top hole open. cover the hole with a thumb. pull up the tube. remove thumb from hole and shake the contents out and get the clam. a two second process without digging that looked to be about 90% successful per try. there we were walking around with retrograde shovels heaving sand up and getting a clam maybe every third try on a good day.

next year rolled around and clam time came and when we got to it i and two of my buddies went to clam beach with our shovels. uh oh. way too many cars. there is about 50 yards of scrub between the frontage road and the beach and we could see a lot of people out there. we started walking toward the beach. part way there we encountered a man carrying a gunny sack running toward the road. he saw us only when he was very close. he threw down the sack and blurted out "there's game wardens everywhere checking for licenses!" and ran on. the sack was full of clams. we picked it up and walked on out to the beach where we saw fifty gazillion people with the devil's own tubes. we exchanged wry looks and agreed that the clams didn't need us after them too. we did eat the abandoned clams. i thought my life of clamming was done.

after some years i moved to siskyou county; well beyond an easy trip the shore. a few more years and i moved back to santa cruz county, i did pick up a few clams in capitola once or twice as well as admiring the fossils. now i live on the olympic peninsula in washington state. oh my. it is two miles to the mouth of a small creek where low tide uncovers the most marvelous mud flats just chock full of many varieties of clams. i went there to dig clams several times last year and twice so far this year and i have seen two other people digging only ONCE. and they used shovels. i use a garden hand trowel as my digging tool because my favorite clams are found 6 to 10 inches down.

of course the clam dinner is not the only reward from clamming. the shore is endlessly interesting. all sorts of plants and animals besides clams live in the intertidal zone. when one looks up there are birds of all kinds. here in washington i often see bald eagles, and i watched a hawk scare a hundred crows off the mudflats. flocks of terns and shearwaters and birds whose names i don't know suddenly take off and fly around in wonderfully synchronous formations. bunches of various sizes of birds with long pointed beaks peck in the sand or mud for food. landward there are forested hills, sometimes coming right to the water's edge. and out there, always drawing my eye, is the huge expanse of the water.

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